BBefore diving into a dinner party, my friend Lizzie always makes it a point to ask the host to describe each dish they have prepared. It’s a way of acknowledging their efforts – but, according to Food Psychology, it could also be helping itself and other diners eat better by making them more attentive to their meal.
Charles Spence is a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, who studies the factors that influence what we choose to eat and how we feel about the experience. His research highlights the extent to which these choices are shaped by how we engage with our food; in short, the look and smell of our meals, whether we eat them with forks or with our fingers – even the music we listen to while eating or shopping can play a role in our healthy eating. The following techniques will help you “trigger” your brain to make better decisions for your body.
Use heavier cutlery or, better yet, no cutlery at all
Many of us now know that serving meals on a smaller plate can control the amount of food we eat because our brain thinks there is more food than there actually is. This has a profound effect on satiety (how full you feel), but the brain can also be tricked by the tools we use: heavier cutlery improves our appreciation, as does eating with our hands, which engages our meaning and makes us more aware. “With a fork, you don’t have to think about it,” Spence says. He cites the example of chef Andoni Aduriz of the famous Mugaritz restaurant in Errenteria, northern Spain, who removed the cutlery for all dishes so that people “think more about how they interact with their food”. .
Make eating as sensory an experience as possible
“Anything you can do to be more mindful and eat more slowly, to be more aware of the moment, will likely improve the sensations associated with eating and mean you’re satisfied with less,” Spence says. Not only will this affect satiety, but it could also help you make healthier choices and enjoy them more. “If it’s true that 75-95% of what we taste we really smell, then aroma is really important. Yet many of our eating behaviors are not optimized for this. If you’re drinking coffee from a takeaway cup with a lid, you’re missing out on a key part of the experience,” he says – one that would be enhanced by smelling the aroma escaping from a nice cup while putting your hands around. . Enjoy your first coffee like this, and maybe you won’t feel so tempted by a second. This example also highlights the role that touch can play in satiety and satisfaction. Spence thinks one of the reasons bowl food has grown in popularity in recent years is that you can pick it up and bring it closer to you: “Feeling its weight and warmth, breathing in its scent – it helps maximize the multisensory experience. ”
Cook – and eat – with your eyes
As the Roman foodie Apicius noted — and food psychologists have since proven — we eat with our eyes first, and that dictates much of our experience. Indeed, by shaping our expectations, the appearance of food has even been shown to influence what we taste when we eat it; so a big, beautiful salad with a variety of leaves, colors and textures won’t just look better than a handful of spinach; it will also taste better. We also need to remember that we’re eating with our eyes when it comes to pre-made foods, Spence says, especially when it comes to something asymmetrical (or without a uniform appearance). Despite all the heated discussion about how to eat a chocolate digestive – to flip or not to flip – it seems that eating it on the chocolate side maximizes our sensory experience, because it’s the chocolatey, energy-dense top that our brain finds so appealing. .
Load your first bite
There’s a reason the first bite of a chocolate bar tastes better than subsequent bites; the first bite is new, then our taste buds get used to it. “Even when the flavor of each bite or sip is slightly different, if it looks the same, our brain tends to assume that the taste also stays the same,” Spence says. The flip side is that we can use this reaction to our advantage and reduce the amount of unhealthy food we eat by putting as much of it as possible in that first bite. It’s more difficult to do at home, but it comes into play when designing ready-to-eat foods. “Some companies are now designing foods with asymmetrical ingredients,” says Spence: for example, at Unilever Research, ready-to-eat lasagna is made with salt sprinkled on alternating layers.
Choose your music carefully and turn down the volume
“A lot of the sensory marketing literature shows that you can change people’s food choices with music,” says Spence. For example, people will drink about 30% more if the music is fast and loud. There’s new evidence to suggest that loud noises trigger less healthy eating behaviors – “which could be because there’s so much noise you can’t really taste what you’re eating.” Gender matters too: listening to jazz and classical music increases people’s preferences for healthy salty foods more than American rock, for example, which pushes us more towards burgers and fries; something to keep in mind if you listen to music while shopping. Spence is increasingly interested in whether the sounds of nature can influence our decision to make healthier food choices; In a study by Portuguese researchers, a supermarket played the sound of the sea near the fish counter and fish sales increased dramatically. “We know being exposed to nature is good for mental well-being, and I can’t help but wonder if playing these soundscapes leverages that.”
Make shared meals as engaging and memorable as possible
It’s true that we tend to eat more in the company of others — “but we don’t recommend eating alone,” Spence says — at least not usually. There are ways to enhance the sensory experience of a communal meal and encourage diners to focus on the food as well as the conversation. One is to involve people in the process: serving dishes so that they can serve themselves or encouraging them to personalize their plate with, for example, herbs or seasonings. “This causes what is called the Ikea effect. They feel ownership of what they eat. Multiple courses, rather than a wide spread, also create “memory hooks” – and, helpfully, slow people down. Finally, Spence agrees with my friend Lizzie. “It strikes me how many times you go to people’s houses, and they’ve made food, and we don’t discuss it; and how nice it would be if they described, say, carrots as pungent. When it comes to eating more mindfully, there’s a lot to be said for just talking more about food.